Matthew Keenan

435 South Columns

Selfies for the golden age, published 435 South, January, 2015

by on Feb.01, 2015, under 435 South Columns

Selfies for the Golden Age Set

Aging has many benefits, but the proctologist adding to your photo album is not one of them.

My physician was pointing to a color photograph and talking. But I wasn’t listening. I couldn’t. My brain was fixated on what was on the four corners of the 4-by-6 picture. It was a color snapshot of a pinkish tunnel whose surface revealed small bumps like tiny balloons. One nagging thought kept returning to my mind.

“This is my colon?” And a second question: “How did he get a camera up there?”

He kept talking.

“So this is a polyp and it’s nothing to be concerned about, but I would recommend getting follow-ups…”

I interrupted him. “So this was taken during the colonoscopy?”

He nodded and paused. These days there are selfies everywhere, including many places horribly inappropriate, like funerals. Why not your anus?  OK.

He finished up and handed it to me.

“See you in five years,” he said.

I stuck it in my jacket and went about my business. A couple weeks later I was fishing around in the pocket and pulled it out.

In church. During the homily.

Ever had your mind switch from the fishes and the loaves to, well, you know?

I didn’t think so.

I got home, retrieved it and decided it needed a home. But where? In the recycle bin?

Fast forward five years: “Matt, as your colon specialist, if I could just compare your earlier photograph of the colon, I can tell you if you are at risk of cancer. Did you bring it?”


Other options — save it in some file drawer to mingle with CVS coupons? From there it will get tossed in a storage bin. Fifty years from now when I’m gone and they have an estate sale, some yet-unborn grandkid will come across it and mistake it for a screenshot from a computer game: Clans and colons.

“Man, Grandpa was a cool dude. He must have been a gamer!”

Save it in a photo book?

“So here are photos from our baby’s first birthday. And then, turning page, we have – OMG! What is that?”

Put it in a file cabinet with a label that I happily will leave to your imagination?

Scan it and save it on my computer? And when I take the CPU to Best Buy for service, someone from the Geek Squad will entertain the staff about the horrors of colonoscopy prep.

“What a loser this guy must be!”

Turns out, some have found uses for these internal selfies. Colon photos have their own Facebook page with 2,300 likes.

Mine is not one of them.

For sure, “good colon health” has infiltrated our culture — think of endless ads about probiotic yogurts and their role in promoting a healthy “digestive system.”

In this age of oversharing, naturally, Twitter is brimming with tweets about colonoscopies, including photos. I found one with someone comparing their pre- and post-colon shots after the Paleo diet and then boasting how good his healthy colon feels. Other people paraded their pink colons, promising to post photos — or not — if they got followers, favorites or retweets.

And so, with no clear idea of what to do, I took the image to the office and tossed it in my desk drawer.

Fast-forward a couple years when the focus shifted from one part of my body to another. After I had my knee scoped, I was at the post-operative visit with my ortho, Dr. Mark Rasmussen.

The consultation went fine and at the end he paused and said, “Let me show you some photos of your knee. I have a couple of them here.”

My wife crowded over me.

“This is your torn meniscus.”

It looked like thick white sheets squeezed between opaque molding.

“This is normal. Now this is angry tissue,” pointing to another picture.  “This is wear and tear, blah blah yada yada.”

It was white noise. I counted 25 photos.

As we turned to walk out, he extended his hand with the prints.

“These photos are yours to keep.”

Here we go again.

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The Day I played Santa to 400 children (published 435 South, December, 2011)

by on Dec.09, 2014, under 435 South Columns

Television these days is featuring programming about tough jobs. You have the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs with Mike Row,” a huge hit. Then came oil workers in “Black Gold.” Tough guys all over the country sit on their couch, holding the remote, eating their chili cheese dogs and declare, “I can do that.” But none of these shows depict what is, in fact, the toughest job on the planet—playing Santa Claus to hundreds of toddlers. I know. Ten years ago I did just that, and I’ve been in therapy ever since.

You see, for years my law firm — Shook Hardy & Bacon — has had a “Santa day” when all our firm’s employees (more than 1,000) are invited to bring their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to come see Santa. For years the role was held by my senior partner John Dods. John, now deceased, was the classic grandfather — a model of composure, patience, civility and professionalism. And since most parents don’t like their daughters sitting on the laps of strangers, this tradition was enormously popular. Here, for once, parents knew Santa was not someone on furlough from Leavenworth.

What happened the day I took over, I cannot forget. When I arrived only 30 minutes early, not yet in costume, the organizers were on the verge of calling police reinforcements. I faced a crowd of anxious soccer moms not unlike those seen in the serving line at any Starbucks during the holiday season.

For the next four hours, each child paraded up and sat on my lap. How often does an adult get to listen and ask questions of 400 toddlers? Answer: never.

This was a pediatric clinical trial no psychologist could ever replicate. Every child had common features. Nine varieties of the common cold and flu, plus another dozen viruses not yet cultured by the world’s finest hospitals. This was a small price to pay to conduct my own pediatric Rorschach test. At the end of the day, I learned that the world contains four kinds of kids.

The first group—the “I want it all” kids. Santa’s authenticity is nowhere on their radar. If an adult is willing to listen, they will gladly spout their wish list. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m betting these kids do not aspire to work in the Peace Corps in Darfur. These kids already have the Nintendo DS and the Xbox. They’ve been to Disneyland, Disneyworld and had first-class treatment courtesy of Carnival Cruises. Their request can often come in an Excel spreadsheet, coupled with an affidavit of good behavior from their kid brother.

Frequent question: “Our house has five chimneys. Which one are you coming down?”

The second group is the toddlers. Typical age, 4 days to 4 years. For them, meeting with Santa is strictly a photo op.

Their brains are wired to mistrust the four horsemen of scary icons—clowns, jugglers, Sluggerrrr and that oversized Chuck Cheese rat. Add bad Santa to their list. Their brain says, Santa may live in the North Pole, but this guy lives in a van down by the river. I’m not buying it.” They start screaming once they get to the front of the line, and it reaches a fever pitch when mom tosses them on my lap.

The next group is the older kids. Typical age, 8 to 12. These are the nonbelievers and are here only because they have a younger sibling. It’s all a fraud, and their goal is to expose the faker for their little brother. The taunts come early and often.

“Hey Santa, can I pull on your beard?” “Where is Rudolph — in the parking garage?” “Do you know obesity puts you at risk for diabetes?” As the day wore on, I started to push back, but some of the best one-liners came to me later that evening after I was sipping on something cold.

“Hey kid, try something new — mouthwash.”

“The earth is full. Go home.” “I’m busy now, can I ignore you some other time?”

“Your braces are picking up radio signals. Plus last week’s pizza.”

The final group is comprised of the “chosen ones”—the sweetest, kindest, most loving children on the planet. Typical age, 4. The image of a halo sets them apart. They are most often girls. Santa is real, and this face-to-face is on par with meeting Snow White, Cinderella and God. Their requests sound like a prayer: “My brother wants a teddy bear, and he is trying to be nice. My parents work really hard, and it would be nice to give them some time off. I only want to make my grandpa get better. He is sick.” These toddlers offer the hope of redemption for an entire generation.

And when it was finally over, I stumbled down the office hallway, far away from the screaming crowd, shed the costume in a pile and started on my own wish list for Christmas—that John Dods would return as Santa the following year.

A substantial request that, I’m happy to report, came to fruition.

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What is good about good-bye? (published in August 435 South)

by on Sep.13, 2014, under 435 South Columns

Someone help me here.

Whether used in solemn occasions like when my mother died 12 years ago, or even lighthearted ones in everyday conversation with friends, there can be little good about someone you love leaving.

And when that someone is your only daughter, your last child, and the one whose existence has represented thoughtfulness and kindness juxtaposed against a universe defined much differently by her three older brothers — yes, I am challenged to find something constructive in watching her leave for college.

There is nothing good about this farewell.

There. I said it.

And as long as I’m challenging conventional notions, let me bulldoze another one: Whomever said parents shouldn’t play favorites didn’t have three sons and then a daughter.

Maggie’s world view early on has been defined by a prince on a white horse, met by a beautiful damsel walking among day lilies under a crystal blue sky. Artwork, worth noting, that does not include guns, monsters, tanks or GI Joe in a combat vest.

In grade school, inside the closet of her bedroom, she sketched a fairytale of her wedding to a first grade classmate. So beautiful and imaginative that even today, it remains more treasured than any fixture in that home.

And we haven’t lived there for 12 years.

As for that once darling classmate? All knees and elbows. The Golden Child, on the other hand? That part, for sure, remains storybook.

So spare me the dreadful yammering that Maggie’s send-off contains a silver lining. That she is ready for the real world, the next adventure, blah blah yada yada.

Just. Stop. Now.

I care nothing about Dr. Phil types who claim this is all a reaction to a fear of losing control. That has nothing to do with it. What is it about?

Three things.  1. Me.  2. See #1. 3. See #2.

Maybe it was denial, maybe it was distraction, but her pending farewell really didn’t hit me until this spring. Her final high school dance and then high school graduation — all dress rehearsals for the big show. I navigated those spring events relatively smoothly, thanks to another senior dad — Bill Kerns — who dispensed sound advice for all dads – “show up, shut up, and pay.”


But what’s the plan now? Show me the playbook, the 10-step plan for recalibrating my life. Give me the strategy and I will read it, and then shred it. This is the child whose cowboy boots on the hardwoods break the silence, whose doors fly open to a “hello,” who introduces me to television shows with vampires who keep diaries. She talks, even converses — an art her brothers lost back when Clinton was president. This is the child who, at age 15, wanted to earn her hunter safety certificate to duck hunt with you-know-who. Someone who walked into a crowded room at the Olathe Bass Pro Shop jammed with NRA dudes wearing ACCO Seed ball caps and then set the curve on the gun safety quiz.

Yeah, her.

The kid who buys advance tickets to “The Fault in Our Stars” — about two teens who meet at a cancer support group, fall in love, and, spoiler alert — one of them dies.

“I read the book in four hours,” Maggie told me as she headed out to the premier with five of her friends.

I’ve talked this over with my better half, but the conversations are difficult — especially with Lori curled in the fetal position surrounded by York mint wrappers.

I’ve asked other friends for guidance. “Get a Panera card and then a bird feeder. Visit the Goodfeet store. Get rid of the clock that rings every hour. Start a hobby.”

I have a hobby. You’re reading it. And it’s not working. Not one bit.

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Reflections on a Johnson County Nomad, May 435 South Magazine

by on May.09, 2014, under 435 South Columns

For 30 years I have lived in Johnson County. And in that time, my home has been in the northern reaches, and then south, further south and now, since November, north again. For those keeping track, that is four homes, two rentals, and a couple storage units, just to make things even more interesting.

If it’s true that two moves equal a fire, then four moves equal falling into a sinkhole during a tornado. But with every new zip code, we found inviting neighbors, parishes, teachers, peers. We started traditions, ended old ones and made wonderful friends along the way.

To say that our county is replete with strong and safe neighborhoods, attractive school districts and affordable homes is a statement few others can make.

In Fairway, we lived at 5532 Aberdeen in a three-bedroom, two-bath, one-car garage home. The year was October 1987.  Life had one speed: fast. We met the neighbors across the street and found an instant connection; he was from a town near Great Bend and she was a local, like Lori.

In those seven years, we spent a lot of time in the waiting room of Dr. Francis Ferns — Lori’s OBGYN at St. Luke’s. The remaining time we spent with another physician, Dr. Jeff Waters, our pediatrician.

With three sons in five years, my weekend wardrobe was sweat pants and college T-shirts. For Lori it was maternity clothes, shaped over a Singer sewing machine purchased on credit at Sears. Our first car together was a black Chrysler van with plastic wood paneling from Bud Brown. At the Highlawn Montessori school our kids attended, the staff called it the “toaster” because when they rolled back the sliding door, chicken nuggets would spill out.

I would frequently nod off during conversations.

Aberdeen had no sidewalks, so on our frequent walks, our stroller hugged the curb. The typical destination was heading south into the leafy Mission Hills cul de sacs. On weekends we ate at Don Chilitos and, during Lent, Long John Silver’s. On special occasions, we favored Leona Yarbrough’s in Fairway.

And life was very good.

But when the three sons were about to gain a sister, we needed more space. On that morning in June 1996, when that charming Cape Code stood empty, we closed the front door and slipped a note inside to the new owner: “We know you will love this home as much as we did. Treat her well and she will look after you and yours.”

And then we drove away. Actually, I drove, because Lori was bawling her eyes out. I tried to keep the stiff upper lip, but it was hopeless. Those were the best years of our lives, we said almost in unison. And I hit the gas, driving south 80 blocks, down Mission Road, but it felt like we were heading to a different hemisphere. We landed at 132nd Street in a subdivision known as Greenbrier. There, everything was bigger — homes, yards, cars and, in most cases, families. Chain link fences, power lines, and single-car garages disappeared. Our backyard acquired a swing set and three Bradford pear trees smaller than most Fairway tree branches.

Across the street, the neighbors owned a trampoline.

You know those new-age trampolines enclosed by netting, with padding, and plastered with warning labels? That wasn’t this one.

In the face of this “buy 1 get 1 free ER visit,” if you think that Lori would forbid our four from partaking, you are thinking of another family. Any such order would have been hopeless in any event.

Eight years later, we were on the move again, and yes, with hand-written notes, and tears and declarations that “those were the best years of our lives!” And if it sounds like we have issues with home commitments, well, yeah.

And late last year we returned back to the 66206 zip code at Leawood’s north end.

And so I know of what I speak when I compare and contrast the two different dimensions of this fine county. You could paint with a broad brush and declare the north as old, and the south, as young.

O’Neill’s restaurant, for instance, is a charming eatery at 95th and Mission where the patrons are veterans from various wars.

South has Sullivan’s with its own veterans — survivors of pre-nuptial battles. North has the Paul Henson YMCA on 79th street in Prairie Village, where patrons like my mother-in-law pound treadmills with orthopedic shoes. South has Lifetime Fitness, where soccer moms trade their Tori Burch flats for fluorescent Nikes, Lululemon tights and monogrammed water bottles.

There are other contrasts:

  • The north has owls; south — hawks.
  • North — foxes; south — coyotes.
  • North — Euston’s True Value Hardware and Ranchmart Hardware, both with 40-year-long employees who will build you a bunk bed while you pick out a bird feeder; south — Lowe’s.
  • North — Leawood Theater at 95th Street; south — AMC and Palazzo.

In Prairie Village, Christmas trees come from an Eagle Scout occupying the corner of 67th and Nall. In Stanley, you drive 10 miles south on Highway 69 and cut your own.

Emblematic of the demographics, at our new parish, Cure of Ars, the parish bulletin offers someone who can repair your rosary.

South has a fondness for subdivisions named for deer, lions and ranches. The north favors fields, ridges and woods. In the north, locals grow up in Indian Fields and are devastated that they can’t start their own family in a home across the street. South has more architectural, well, variety with, yes, some cookie-cutter subdivisions, but many other charming ones as well, like Leawood South or Berkshire Estates.

I counted the other day; Johnson County has 20 different cities. Over the last six years, three of those have been named by Money Magazine as top 100 most livable (Overland Park, Olathe and Shawnee). It begins and ends with quality schools in a state settled by immigrants who embraced and defended freedom.

For me, home was always Kansas, but was more closely identified by a small town in central Kansas where my dad still lives and works. But that perspective began to shift in the fall of 1984.

And now it has come full circle.

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Foam Free: The Key to Successful Kegger, published in Feb 435 South

by on Feb.17, 2014, under 435 South Columns

If it’s true, as they say, that America has a love affair with beer, then what can you say about the relationship that my generation has enjoyed with the libation best poured into a frosty mug?

When I was in high school, Kansas, unlike most states, had a legal drinking age of 18 for 3.2 beer, which encouraged a string of 18 bars in Kansas. Some, like Shawnee’s Merry-Go-Round, folded many years ago; others, like Mission’s Ruthie’s Key Hole, has evolved not one bit and still has a devoted following. KU offered students The Wagon Wheel, The Hawk and — my favorite — Louise’s West, which served beer in an oversized schooner. Quarter draws were commonplace. Back then, no one in the Western Hemisphere ever made this request of a customer: “Can I see your identification?”

Meanwhile, a separate culture developed from the bars. And that was the social function that was frequently outside, often in the country, with one word defining it: kegger.
But even a kegger had one major obstacle separating itself from a memorable blow-out.  And that was the challenge of proper beer flow. Keg foam can kill a western Kansas party quicker than a tornado warning.A kegger evoked images that went far beyond beer. It was an instant crowd for starters, and in western Kansas, brimming with open fields, beautiful sunsets and alluring nighttime skies, it was a harmonic convergence of all things good.

Trust me.

Avoiding it is no simple task. It involves an enormous barrel of beer placed in a sea of ice, a large CO2 tank, pressure gauges, hoses, attachments, valves and lines connecting with a tap. You needed at least a high school senior, and ideally someone back from college who had real world expertise. They would part the crowd, go to the front of the line, tinker with the valves, adjust the pressure and then — boom — beer. You’d tip your Solo cup, laugh, hug, and realize how lucky you were to enjoy an adult beverage at the mature age of 17.

But to have a kegger in the city? In the month of December, which is typically a dead zone for tapped beer? Unheard of.

Because some uptight mom was concerned about designated drivers? Hardly.

Rather, it was fear of damage to her macramé hanging planters, composite wood paneling and green shag carpet.

But the history books got a re-write on December 10, 1976. Officially, it was a journalism party, hosted by Eagle Scout, altar boy, and all-around teacher’s pet David Haberman. Unofficially, it was a kegger worthy of Frank the Tank of Old School fame. A social event to define the Class of 1977.

And we needed something to distinguish us.

“Panther Tales (the school newspaper) and Yearbook were to have a Christmas Party at our house,” David reflected  recently. “It was to be only the PT and YB Staff. A few people showed up, then more, and more.”

I was far removed from the journalism students, but that didn’t prevent me from joining their gathering.

“Back then, a keg cost about $8 with a $10 deposit,” Haberman told me. “I think we went through two. Before we knew it, the basement was full — wall to wall people. The stereo boomed, beer soaked the floor, my sister’s Christmas cookies were gone, and my parents were due any minute.”

It was an iconic party for the ages. And, shockingly, the keg flowed as if Haberman had received his tutelage from Adolph Coors himself. If I live to be 90, I will still remember that night — enjoying a fresh Coors while Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” blasted on David’s concert-worthy speakers. It was the golden age of cold tapped beer, well-nourished coeds and unlimited opportunities. I was a debater, a non-jock, a nerd. I went from dud to stud in minutes.

Likewise, Haberman’s social status spiked — the old school equivalent of gaining a thousand friend requests. Adding to David’s good fortune, his parents, Francis and Coleta — quite possibly the nicest people on the planet — arrived home and chuckled.

This party was over.

As with all kegs going empty, the beer had turned to foam.

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Ticket to Yesteryear, published in 435 South, October 2013

by on Nov.02, 2013, under 435 South Columns

Psychologists tell us we gain as much joy from rooting against our opponents as we do rooting for our own teams. It’s the thinking that gives rise to this bumper sticker: “My favorite teams are KU and whoever is playing MU.” And when your beloved team plays your hated rival, the potential for euphoria — and despair — is never greater.

In the 1970s, there was no greater rivalry than that between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. The Royals introduced the world to Kansas City baseball with the opening of their stadium in 1973 and with it, joined a golden age of baseball.

In that era, baseball’s popularity eclipsed that of football and basketball combined. It had earned the moniker of “national pastime” and had no peer. Proof of this could be seen in neighborhood baseball diamonds in small towns and big cities equally. There were pick-up games, home run derbies, and special rules to accommodate small numbers of players, like ghost runners.

The Royals-Yankee rivalry went beyond the players, beyond the fans, right down to the managers and owners.

The wildly reviled Billy Martin and his equally despised sidekick Reggie Jackson led the Yankee Empire. The team owners were also studies in contrast: Ewing Kauffman — a self-made man who welcomed trick-or-treaters to his Mission Hills home; and George Steinbrenner — a convicted felon and grumpy recluse who was willing to pay any sum to guarantee a championship.

The Pine Tar game remains an iconic event that was just recognized for its 30th anniversary by media outlets the world over. Do you think it would still be celebrated today had it involved George Brett charging someone like the 1983 Minnesota Twins’ manager Billy Gardner?

No way.

My family’s connection to the Royals was even more personal. Royals shortstop Freddie Patek’s aunt, Marie Peterson, lived in my hometown and, even more unbelievably, worked for my dad’s law firm. It was a moon shot of unlikely probabilities.

In 1976, the Royals faced the Yankees in the American League playoffs. In the deciding game 5 in New York, George Brett hit a game-tying two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Chris Chambliss hit a walk-off home run to win the series. As Chambliss attempted to round the bases, fans mobbed him; a video clip frequently shown is emblematic of the frenzy associated with Yankee baseball.

The next year the Royals were once again on a collision course with the Yankees. But that autumn also saw me leaving home and enrolling as a freshman at KU. I had gained 200 miles on the drive to Royals stadium. When the Royals and Yankees met in the playoffs, my dad called me and what he said I still remember: “I have tickets to game 5, if they play it. You want them?”

My high school classmate, pledge brother and, later in life, best man was John Holt. I now had something John wanted, and the converse was also true.

John had a car.

As had happened many times before and since, we made a memory together.

This was game 5, the biggest game in franchise history and certainly the biggest game played in the new stadium. And in the mix of prominent Kansas City celebrities were two 18-year-olds sitting in the left field upper, upper deck. Use any cliché you want. None could capture the palpable sense of anxiety in the air, in part because of the 1976 meltdown but also because we knew this was a franchise with World Series titles like you’d toss in your closet and forget about.

They had Babe Ruth. We had Dick Drago.

“I just remember how electric it was,” John remembers. “I’d been to many games over the years with my family, motoring up for weekend getaways to watch the Royals. But the buzz, the energy, the anticipation of what could be and the fear of what might be just enveloped us. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Before or since.”

And three distinct memories from that evening have stuck with me.

The first was a play in the first inning. Hal McRae singled and George Brett — just two years separated from his rookie year — hit a triple and brought McRae home. John and I were sitting right above third base. Brett slid into third and Graig Nettles kicked him. Brett came up from his slide and punches flew. Everyone was stunned.

In preparing this piece, I Googled “George Brett + Graig Nettles + fight” and saw the video for the first time. Watch it and you will understand the environment that night. You will also appreciate why Brett was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 98.19 percent of the vote — one of the top five vote-getters of all time, with much of that vote coming from the New York media. They respected him and he respected the game. He competed and played like a warrior. And if your hated rival kicks you after you tripled in the first run of the game, well, there is only one appropriate response.

Obviously I had never seen a game of this magnitude without television commentary. No one could shape your observations, your impressions or your reactions. Everything was raw and you couldn’t process it.

A fistfight with our best player in the first inning of the biggest game on the biggest stage.

“Brett will be tossed!” I said to myself.

No chance.

The umpires knew what the league and NBC also appreciated — this was the most-watched American League playoff game in history, with more than 22 million viewers. This was no time for ejecting the most popular player on the field, on the planet.

Students of local sports history know the game’s eventual outcome. The Royals’ lead evaporated in the top of the ninth inning. It wasn’t a home run that happened quickly, like a year earlier. It was a slow death that started with a bloop single and then a walk, and then another single to Mickey Rivers. On a deep fly, the go-ahead run scored. The game ended with Freddie Patek hitting into a double play.

When the final out was recorded, I can still remember distinctly how the stadium was so quiet you could actually hear the Yankees’ dugout cheering. Whoops and yelling and screaming — so faintly but so distinctly. The contrasts were stark and dumbing. There were two kinds of Royals fans in the world that night: those who cried and liars. The Yankees, of course, went on to win the World Series, beating the LA Dodgers. Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in the final game.

The stadium didn’t empty for what seemed like 30 minutes. By leaving we had to accept it was over and no one was ready to do that. I remember walking down those circular ramps and about halfway down, we came upon a fistfight between two adult fans. Someone was wearing a goose down jacket and it had torn; feathers were slowly circulating in the air, ascending the ramp. One of the bystanders was a lady, and she was screaming. In my 54 years, I’ve seen only two fights between grown men. They were three hours apart. Neither one was the most shocking thing I had witnessed that day.

We climbed in John’s Plymouth Fury but didn’t head home. Home was 262 miles west on I-70 where Larry and Ramona would hug me, fix me some chicken soup, and say something to soothe the soul.

We were stopping short of that at a fraternity with a room that six weeks earlier I had first seen and shared with two older students I hardly knew, and where I slept in a dorm with 30 other strangers, save one. It was a place that felt like a million miles from home, and it would take another six months and a few keggers to get anything close to feeling comfortable.

That stretch of I-70 back to Lawrence was the longest, loneliest, darkest stretch as we listened to the post-game on the radio. Depression wouldn’t do it justice; I was suddenly very homesick, feeling like I had just tumbled into an emotional sinkhole.

For 36 years these recollections were locked away, deep in my consciousness. And then Lori found this ticket stub in our basement and handed it to me.

One glance and all the memories came rushing back.

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Think ushering is easy? Think again. 435 South column, June 2013

by on Sep.07, 2013, under 435 South Columns

Holy Heroes


Ever thought something was easy until you tried it? Ever dissed someone’s work as routine until it was your turn? Like shovel the drive after a snowstorm and found out what a herniated disc means? Or maybe you thought putting up Christmas lights was “no big deal” until you were dangling from a downspout?

Every year 6,000 people end up in the emergency room from hanging Christmas lights. Make that 6,001.

Mark Walsh, Matt Keenan, Joe Gearon, Peter Lane & P.J. Krumm. Not pictured: Tom Cavaliere, Ted Ehler.

So let me add something else to your list of things harder than they appear: ushering at church.

When I say church I’m not talking about a chapel, I’m talking a large, postmodern church you can find at 143rd and Nall in Leawood — St. Michael the Archangel. The place with 4,500 families, 4,499 of which want to sit on the aisle for Christmas Eve mass.

If you still remain skeptical, prepare to be enlightened.

Remember that kid who sat behind you on the Southwest flight to Baltimore and pushed on the back of your seat the entire way? That kid traveling without a parent because no one could tolerate him for more than two minutes? His clone was in the back row at the Easter vigil with a penchant for hitting the bathroom and then trolling around the church balcony. And guess whose job it was to bring reality into his world?

His parents? Yeah, right.


Or when he fights with his sibling over who gets to put the envelope in the basket, with the resulting tug of war tipping the basket across the church floor.

His problem?


Sure, the work of an usher has routine components — finding seats for the latecomers and bulletin distribution, for instance. But there are countless other responsibilities that prevent you from sleepwalking through your exercise, like perfectly timed genuflections and shooing away the political money changers who fill the parking lots on the Sunday before Election Day.

Happily, I was part of a team. Guys you can count on to do the tough jobs like sitting the kid with the Grateful Dead T-shirt where no one will ever see him. Or the family with the slacker college kid who wants to Skype during the homily. Or admonishing the smart-aleck kid who is prone to playing Angry Birds during the Gospel. This is our task, our mission, and our cross to bear.

The Pope may be the Bishop of Rome, but guess who makes sure the worshipers respect the “no seating” periods of Mass?


The team: Joe Gearon, Tom Cavaliere, Mark Walsh, Ted Ehler, P.J. Krumm and our leader, Peter Lane. For seven years we did the 10:30 Mass for December, April and August.

Easter Mass is the Super Bowl of usher assignments. It’s jammed to the limit and the prayer list includes this one: that the fire marshal doesn’t drop by. The toddlers are unhinged, completely allergic to discipline.

Who can blame them? They just downed two chocolate bunnies with a Peep chaser and have blood-sugar levels that would send most adults into a diabetic coma.
On Christmas you get kids obsessed with their gifts and think one of the three wise men was named Santa. And that Jesus was born in the North Pole.

Forget these kids ending up in the seminary; think juvenile detention centers.

Picking out the family to bring up the gifts? That’s pressure, my friend. You need the family who has a photo shoot for Town & Country magazine just after church.

There are other challenges — constant handouts and questionnaires for things with euphemistic names like “time, talent and treasure.” Real meaning: “your wallet, please.” After church you need to patrol the pews to find purses, blankets and those religious coloring books featuring baby Jesus. The ones obviously not left by anyone named Keenan. Or Gearon.

And so when our family left St. Michael’s to join the Cure parish on Mission Road, my time arrived to say goodbye. And on April 14, I did just that.

Here’s to the best “A Team” that doesn’t include Mr. T.

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The down and dirty of local races … here is the 411. Published 435 South, September 2013

by on Sep.07, 2013, under 435 South Columns

The return of fall brings with it a renewal of our city’s many running events. From the Kansas City Marathon on Oct. 19 to countless 5Ks, 10Ks and walk/run events, on any Saturday in September there are two to three organized running functions in the city.

This sport is booming, with record turnouts at local races. The Hospital Hill, for instance, started in 1974 with 99 runners. From 2000 to 2013, the number increased almost three-fold from 2,767 to this year’s number: 9,120. Likewise, Rock the Parkway went from zero to 5,000 runners in five years, normally maxing out weeks before the start date.

This is a national trend. Those who track these numbers tell us that running is increasing in popularity, with 50.1 million Americans running at least once in 2011, up 17 percent from the preceding year. The number of marathon finishers has increased to a high of 518,000 in 2011, compared with 353,000 10 years earlier, an increase of 47 percent. And these gatherings are turning into parties.

The New York Times, in a story earlier this summer, observed that “once perceived as largely a solitary pursuit, running today is a more social endeavor, as runners train with friends for shorter races like five-kilometer charity runs.”

A couple years ago I dipped my toe into this water and quickly saw things first-hand. The adventure started when two of my college sons were back from school in May. Both participated in cross country at Rockhurst. I proposed running the Amy Thompson Run — the year was 2011. They nodded, and we ran it and have returned twice since.

But it wasn’t until late last year that my neighbor Dave Dickerson convinced me to run the half at the Gobbler Grind on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Four months later I was chasing him at Rock the Parkway and then Hospital Hill.

Generally speaking, the participants can show wide variance in terms of experience. Some have a high social component to the gathering. For others, like the Grind, it is a military exercise, with participants appearing as if they are about to rush the beaches of Normandy. In the mix are newbies who are trying to find their own comfort zone. That was me.

So what follows is my attempt to separate out the players — the contenders from the pretenders. The significance of those with pre-race rituals, special gear, headphones, headbands, even tattoos.

What’s least predictive? The most important thing — shoes. Anyone can buy shoes. Even those toe shoes.

So here is the 411 on what to expect at the next race near you.

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Smart Phone Apps Every Parent Needs But Can’t Find

by on Aug.04, 2012, under 435 South Columns

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Making the Grade … 435 South Magazine, published August 2011

by on Sep.25, 2011, under 435 South Columns, Uncategorized

Growing up, Mom kept a Bankers Box of childhood keepsakes for each of her five children, treasure chests containing photos, letters, news clippings and other things like Scout uniforms. When she passed unexpectedly 10 years ago, however, retrieving that time capsule lost importance.

But last May when I was back in our house, I went on a mission. Deep in my Dad’s makeshift wine cellar, there it was.


I sat down on the shag carpet and began to go through it. The common thread throughout the box’s contents was not me—it was Mom. Thoughtful, loving, supportive—every documented activity, every event, she was there. It was, needless to say, an emotional journey.

But there were a few tidbits that brought a grin. Near the bottom I found this grade card. Why Mom thought this timepiece was noteworthy will remain a mystery. In 1972 the Vietnam draft was still proceeding, the top movie was “Deliverance” and among parents, the words “time out” had yet to be conjoined.

It was also the year my happy-go-lucky life took a serious detour. His name was Ollie Stockdale. He taught shop at Harrison Junior High.

Anyone older than 40 knows shop—in later years someone concocted the euphemism “Industrial Arts.” No one would confuse Stockdale’s workroom with MoMA, that’s for sure. It was brimming with industrial-grade saws, vacuum hoses and power drills. In the early 1970s there were no safety-off switches. If you had an ADD spell while the buzz saw was heading your way, you woke up in the ER minus one digit.

By appearance, Stockdale was a dead ringer for Red Forman in “That ‘70s Show,” except there was no laugh track to soften his demeanor. Class was a cross between a sawdust factory and hell. Stockdale dedicated his life to two things: mentoring the ready, willing and able on how to construct masterpieces and making the disinterested miserable.

Ty Pennington he was not. Stockdale was prone to few words and frequent swats for the misdirected. The most popular equipment was the vacuum, theoretically for cleanup, but some kids used it to suck up large items lying idle in the shop room. Wood blocks would clang and bang through the hose and down a tunnel that doubled as an echo chamber. It was more fun than making a bookshelf.

Stockdale’s notations on my grade card underscore the obvious. I stood out. Stockdale was declaring to my parents and—with zero academic confidentiality back then—the world that I wasn’t just a bad carpenter. I was a goof-off, jackleg and a disaster with a hammer and nail. But sucking 2×4’s into the vortex? World class. That perhaps was my proudest moment in shop class.

If shop was emblematic of that era, its twin was home economics. Teaching an entirely different life skill, the class was enormously popular and gave essential instruction on being a good homemaker.

My wife was a star in home ec at Shawnee Mission East where, according to her, teachers taught important things. “We learned how to sew skirts, not garbage like PajamaJeans,” she says. “Some never mastered the zipper stage,” she adds. “I did.”

So why would Ramona Keenan keep a grade card with a “D?” Today’s parents would fire up the shredder or rush up to school and demand a meeting with the teacher. I have no recollection of Larry Keenan lecturing me about what a “D” could mean down the road. Back then parents didn’t know or care about junior high grades. Or even high school grades for that matter. There was no Duke University Talent Identification Program for middle school kids and no prep course for the ACT or SAT.

My kid brother, Marty, recently suggested that in 1972 dad had bigger priorities—my older sister who had big hair, big dreams and big boyfriends. And all three were attempting to intersect on Friday nights. Her antics gave Dad heartburn and kept the liquor cabinet in a lock-down that would rival Fort Knox.

With reflection, I suppose Mom remembered that 1972 was the year I left the tutelage of the Dominican sisters at St. Patrick’s—a year earlier than most—to enroll at Harrison Junior High. Larry and Mona didn’t like me leaving the pastoral environs where I spent K-7 to a place where there were no uniforms and no daily Mass. Stockdale was my comeuppance; and now, 39 years later, is giving me a story for the ages.

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